How to Take Better Pictures Today

Making my first $1 million from selling travel photos was pretty tough.  Partly because it hasn’t happened yet.  So why should you listen to me?  I’m going to give you a simple technique that you won’t find anywhere else.  You won’t need a new camera to do it, or a new lens.  It’s just one question.

Most photography instruction is redundant.  Pick out almost any guide to photography and the chapter headings will most likely read: Aperture, Shutter, Exposure.  Then the “big secrets” will be the Rule of Thirds, using Leading Lines, and Repeating Patterns.  The cutting-edge book you dropped $30 on is teaching you photography the same way it’s been taught since the 1940s.  (note: I’m not saying that stuff isn’t important, just don’t spend money learning it)  What if there’s a better way to teach photography?

Welcome to Andy’s Travel Blog Photography 101.

Are you ready?

The Question that will help every one of your photos.

Here it is.

“What am I taking a picture of?”

Mind blown, right?  Either that or you’re reaching for that little X to close this tab.  But stay with me.  So many times I will take pictures because stuff looks nice and I’m sure something there will make a good picture, so I’ll pick up my camera and start shooting blindly.  Make a better decision Andy!  My best pictures come when I slow down, breathe for a second, examine my surroundings, and ask myself The Question.  Once I’ve answered it, I set up my shot based on my answer.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Winspear Opera House in Dallas

I took this in Dallas during a photowalk with Trey Ratcliff.  I was looking around, saw this, took the picture, and walked away.  I went through and edited it, but when I was finally done, I sat there and asked myself The Question: what was I taking a picture of?  The Ross Tower on the left?  The pergola on the top?  The building in the middle?  Honestly I don’t know, because I didn’t slow down and figure it out before I took the picture.  Sure the colors are cool, and I’ll absolutely sell a print to someone if they want it, but I could’ve made a better decision.

I compare that to a picture I took at one of my favorite photo destinations in Dallas: White Rock Lake.

White Rock Lake, Dallas

I was shooting random sunrise pictures of the lake, when I came upon this log.  I stopped and asked myself The Question, “What am I taking a picture of?”  The answer was “The log in the water with the tree on the left framing the sunrise.”  Your goal when answering The Question is to be as detailed as possible because it will take all the effort out of trying to compose the picture, just make the image in your viewfinder look like the answer you gave to The Question.  (From a technical perspective, the way I framed the shot helps give depth to the picture because there are things for the eye to see in the foreground before going deeper into the picture.  But it’s easier to say it the other way.)  Out of all the other random sunrise pictures I took that day, it’s this one that I like the most, because I stopped, breathed, and asked myself The Question.

Everyone reading probably has Facebook/Instagram/Twitter.  Go back and look at five pictures you posted and see if you can remember how you would’ve answered The Question in that shot, and see if what you ended up posting reflected your answer.  If it did, great!  If not, try asking yourself The Question the next time you pull out your camera or your smartphone.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

4 Comments

  1. Agreed, and now off to evaluate my latest photo dump. *sigh

    Reply
  2. I actually like the top pic. it’s different due to angle. The second is quite common because it is more expected to look the way it did. IMHO.

    Reply
  3. Trey Radcliffe was a speaker at TBEX last year in Toronto. He’s fabulous.

    Reply
  4. Right there with Katherine. My version of The Question recently has been a directive: tell a story. Sometimes that story isn’t very good, unfortunately.

    Reply

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